What Does "plot" Mean in Literature?


Quick Answer

In literature, plot refers to the main storyline of a literary work. Novels, short stories, memoirs and plays all have plots, but poems and essays typically do not.

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What Does "plot" Mean in Literature?
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Full Answer

Although the term plot is often used synonymously with storyline, it should not be confused with the action in the story, and it is not the same as the events in the story. Instead, it is a more comprehensive term that includes the story's action and its conflict as well as the motivations behind the action. Even exposition is considered to be part of a story's plot. The most traditional plot structure involves exposition or introduction, action, climax and resolution.

In "The Basic Patterns of Plot," literary theorist William Foster-Harris claims there are three types of plots: happy endings, unhappy endings, and plots that start at a happy or unhappy event and end at a question that makes the reader wail.

In "20 Master Plots," Ronald Tobias suggests that there are 20 basic plots, and he gives them labels like quest, forbidden love and rivalry. Georges Polti raised this number to 36 in his book "The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations," and his list includes plots like adultery, self-sacrifice for a kindred and crime pursued for vengeance.

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